An Interview with Literary Agent Jonathan Lyons
Jonathan Lyons will be a featured agents at the Writers’ League of Texas’ 2014 Agents and Editors Conference. He represents a list of authors from a range of genres, and currently oversees Curtis Brown LTD‘s translation rights department. For more information about Jonathan, as well as other agents, visit our Featured Agents page.
How would you describe your personal approach to working with a writer/client?
Jonathan Lyons: Each relationship with a client is very different, depending on the client’s needs, strengths, and personality. Still, there are some principles that guide me in all of these relationships, which include: 1) responsiveness; 2) attention to detail; and 3) career planning.
I think the most common complaint authors have in regard to their agents (besides not selling their works) is that agents can be unresponsive. I strive to avoid that at all costs. If a client asks me a question, I’ll respond as soon as I can, even if the answer is “I’m looking into it.” I don’t dodge calls or emails, and don’t come up with excuses. It still might take me a while to give you a response depending on the question and my workload, but I try to take the mystery out of what exactly is occurring on my end.
In addition, while there are many things out of an author’s control in the publishing business, we should handle with thoroughness the things we can influence. Whether it’s spell-checking or a term in your contract, the details matter.
Finally, for each of my clients I always consider their overall career goals. Where do they want to be in one year, in five years, and in ten years? What are their expectations as to money? How do their book publishing endeavors fit with other potential professional endeavors, as well as their personal lives? The answers to these questions provide a roadmap for my representation.
If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
JL: I’m not sure there’s one thing. I have some really amazing clients, and while each relationship is unique, the traits they all generally share include a willingness to work hard, being open to criticism, and a hunger for success.
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.?
JL: A lack of care. It’s insulting when someone doesn’t bother to take the time to find out how to spell my name, or to see what types of work I represent, or to proofread/revise their work before sending it to me. It’s the author’s choice as to whether to submit to a query to me. But if you do, please do your homework in advance.
You often hear that it’s the first ten pages – or even the first page – that sells a story. Is there something particular that you look for in those first few pages?
JL: A strong desire to turn the page and keep reading.
If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
JL: Review/revise. Review/revise again.
Tell us about a project you took on, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on, because there was something special or unique about it that you couldn’t say no to. Or, tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor or agent.
JL: One of my most exciting moments recently as an agent occurred last year, with the publication of Brian Jay Jones’s JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY. Brian was one of my first clients, and when we first started working together we outlined a career path to build his platform, which has come to fruition. There have been stops and starts, but through talent, hard work, and persistence he’s now a New York Times bestselling author. He’s also a wonderful guy, brilliant, honest, and kind, and he’s become a dear friend to me. I’m extremely proud to be his agent.